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Sunday, 6 March 2011





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Sunburnt Home - an Australian-Sri Lankan novel

Chapter 15: Where did the white swans go?

The clouds began to come together and formed a thick, dark patch that encroached upon the blue layer of the sky. Acting as a shield against the afternoon sun, the clouds turned the surroundings into a much cooler place. Jayadeva saw black swans like little ferries floating in the silent waters of the Kelani River. He had seen black swans on a couple of occasions in the Swan River at a distance.

--Why are swans black in Australia? Is it due to a mutation in the evolutionary process?

From a lesson he learnt a long time ago, Jayadeva tried to apply Darwinâ€(tm)s theory of 'Natural Selection' to trace the origins of black swans. Until he came to Australia, Jayadeva believed that all swans were white. That's what Sri Lanka has taught him. With his little knowledge of Darwin's theory of 'Natural Selection', Jayadeva thought that white swans would have lived in the land now known as Perth, perhaps a long time ago, but for whatever the reasons, only the black ones had survived.

--The black swans may be the result of some kind of an evolutionary process thousands and thousands of years ago, which allowed them to survive in the environment! Those birds may have passed on not only the colours but their strength and ability to survive where their paler off-springs

No one mentions black swans in Sri Lanka. That's what you see around and read in books. Likewise, no one speaks about white swans in Perth. Even the State flag carries the image of a black swan. If they had white swans in Australia, like in Sri Lanka, then their image would be all over including the State flag. Isn't it amusing how nature produces a different result in one place and another elsewhere?

Humming a few lines from a song by Amaradewa, Jayadeva came out of the tent where he was resting. His work mate, Peter Ferguson and his partner, Liz had decided to set up their camp closer to the lake. Glancing over at Peter's tent and then his watch, Jayadeva wondered whether it was time to get the fire ready for a barbecue.

When Jayadeva invited Peter and his wife for dinner at a nearby Karri Valley Restaurant, he replied: "We'll have a barbecue, so you can cook us a good barbecue curry chicken!"

First he felt a bit nervous as he could not understand the irony of Peter's words: a Good barbecue curry chicken!"

This is a good opportunity to prove that I can now make a barbecue as well as curries...

Jayadeva had acquired cooking skills only after living in Australia for a few years. As he came out with the hope of inviting Peter for a beer, Asela came from nowhere with a sad face carrying a pocket radio.

"Dad, the Eagles have lost to Geelong! How could they beat us? We are the best? We've never lost to Geelong before! We've beaten them twice in three years! How come they won today?"

How can I teach him that winning and losing are essential parts of life? Aren't they eternal truths? Have I won everything in Australia? Why did I come here? Didn't I come to Australia because life was becoming hectic in Sri Lanka? Civil of

"What are you thinking Dad? Are you sad too that our team lost today?"

Asela question broke Jayadevaâ€(tm)s reverie. Asela repeated his question realising that his father was day dreaming.

Jayadeva was unsure what to tell his son.

--Shouldn't I teach him the lessons of losing and winning in life? These are realities that affect everyone. It'll take at least twenty years or more for him to grasp such realities...

"It's okay Putha, they'll win next time." Jayadeva consoled his son.

"No Dad, the Eagles haven't got enough points to get into the finals this year!"

Jayadeva told Asela a lesson from Buddhist scripts which highlights winning and losing as an integral part of life.

"There was no Aussie Rules Footy during Buddha's time! It won't explain why Geelong beat our West Coast Eagles, Dad!" Asela said angrily.

---Is that story too much for a boy of nine years?

Malini who heard the conversation between the father and son from inside the tent called her son.

"Sam, come over here. I'll tell you why the Eagles lost today," and Malini explained, "I think the Eagles players either didn't practise enough, or they couldn't play well in Victoria. Perhaps some of the good players were injured. Do you know who played today?"

Asela listened attentively.

Jayadeva preferred Malini's explanation. However, he was angry as he didn't like her calling their son, Sam.

"Why are you calling him Sam? His name is Asela!" Jayadeva asked firmly.

"That's the question,Malini said and laughed.

" Why then your friends call you Jay at work, instead of Jayadeva? "

" Some of them can pronounce my name properly, Jayadeva", said innocently.

Malini smiled. You know how Aussies do things in Australia," she continued, "They don't say Australians but Aussies. Fremantle is Freo. Pemberton becomes Pembi and even Christmas is shortened as Chrissie! Robert becomes Bob and Jayadeva becomes Jay! Do you want them to shorten Asela's name into something nasty? Aussies love to abbreviate things. Haven't you noticed that great Aussie tradition? You'd better start calling him Sam before it's too late." Malini continued, "Though people can pronounce my name Malini, I'm happy they call me Lee. Jay, don't try to live on the fence!" She changed her tone and said, "We came here to accept things as they are, and settle down. We can't be surrounded by Australian things, culture, and traditions and still live with a Sri Lankan mind like some of your friends. We need to follow Aussie rules! Malini gaped at Jayadeva, and continued.

" That's why I sat for the AMC exam and did another internship in my mid thirties! Did I complain? Aren't you happy here? Isn't Australia better than Sri Lanka? Isn't your job far better than the one you had in Mahaweli even though you are not a director here? There are no JVP fellows to threaten us or for that matter Tamil terrorists. No influence from MPs! We never had an outing like this in Sri Lanka. Yes it's true that we had servants at home, and you never washed a plate or cooked a meal!" Malini said passionately.

"Had you continued to work for Mahaweli in Kekirawa, your talents would have been wasted like a wildflower in the bush. The world doesn't get a chance to appreciate its beauty. Be thankful for the opportunities you have in Australia. This is indeed a lucky country!" Malini said and took a deep breath.

Jayadeva sat silently looking at the deep blue sky and didn't want to respond to Malini. She left Jayadeva alone when the kids urged her to join them. They wanted to feed the swans with bread crumbs.

"Dad, won't you come with us? You can have a closer look at these black swans," Asela said. "We don't have black swans in Sri Lanka, do we? You told me that yesterday."

"No, you'd better go and feed the birds. I'll have to catch up with Peter. It's already getting dark and it may be too late to start a fire for a barbecue."

The silence started growing once they left, and it soothed him, but he was not happy. He came out of the tent and sat outside. He imagined the still waters of the lake being stirred by the pleasant passage of the swans. The water, blending with wind calmed down the warm weather. In the distance the children were reaching out for swans. They appeared to be very happy. They had not seen black swans outside of the Swan River before and were enjoying this opportunity to feed them.

Jayadeva tried to recall the poems his father used to recite from Hansa Sandesaya in which a swan carried a message to a designated place. There was a particular stanza he admired which compared the swan to the moon, implying that the swan was as pleasant as the rays emanating from the moon. As he could not remember that stanza he tried to recall the first stanza of Hansa Sandeshaya.

--How did the poet welcome the swan?

"Saerada hasa rada sanda

Piyakaru piyan piri piya

Piyowuru lesin hobana"

[Bless you noble swan

You carry a pleasant image

Resembling an image of

Curvy breasts of young maidens]

--Is it proper for the poet who was a Buddhist monk to compare the swan with young maiden's breast? Or does it carry a deeper meaning of nourishment of children as mothers breast feed their children.

His father, who was a school teacher used to recite classical poetry in the morning and in the evenings sitting in the veranda. Jayadeva tried to replay those beautiful melodies in his mind. The memories brought a feeling of nostalgia.

--Were there any references to black swans in Sinhala literature?

Although the evening had brought darkness, Jayadeva was able to see the edge of the lake clearly. He watched his family enjoying the scenery sitting by the lake.

The only reason he never regretted leaving Sri Lanka was his Australian salary. Also, after a recent visit to Sri Lanka, Jayadeva realised that he could relax and enjoy driving his new car on Western Australian roads and freeways more easily than driving a car on the narrow roads in Sri Lanka.

---There are no undisciplined pedestrians and cyclists... no cattle, dogs and bullock carts in Perth, and I suppose it is the same all over the country!

When he converted his fortnightly salary into Sri Lankan rupees, a feeling of relief settled in his heart. Even after paying their mortgage and the loan for his new luxury car, it was not difficult for them to save about two hundred dollars every month from Jayadeva's salary. Malini also contributed to the mortgage and saved the money in a separate account. If it was not for Malini's opposition, he would have sent their entire savings into a Non-Resident Account in Sri Lanka.

Saving money in Australia meant paying penalties such as tax on the interest from the income the government had already taxed for salaries. Despite this, Malini preferred to save money in Australia for other reasons such as buying shares and buying an investment property. As they have decided to live in Nedlands; an upper middle class suburb in Perth, and not attending Sri Lankan events had made other Sri Lankans uneasy with Jayadeva and his family, as he heard from one of his Sri Lankan friends, Abey.

--Does Abey really mean what he says, or is that mere envy? Have I become another upper class white Australian in their own eyes? If it was not for my father-in-law's money, we couldn't have bought the house in Nedlands! Abey doesn't know that. He must be thinking that I'm earning double his salary as I work in the private sector!

"Why are you staring at the beer cans?

He hadn't realised that Malini and the kids had already returned.

"Peter wanted to know why you didn't join us. He wanted to know whether you are okay with camping! They wanted us to come over soon for dinner, a barbecue."

Without responding to Malini he looked at the growing darkness outside the tent. The clouds that had been forming a few hours earlier had pushed the evening twilight away. The sky was absorbing the inevitable dusk. As Jayadeva looked out, he saw the lake as a dark desert he had once glimpsed from the air, some time ago.

The swans on the lake had merged with the distant horizon. He thought that the black swans would soon disappear into the darkness which was encroaching the land.

--Is it too late to start a fire for the barbecue?

He was not sure whether the darkness on the horizon was due to the invading night or an overcast sky, preceding a rain. Jayadeva couldn't decide whether to take a few cans of beer or good Sri Lankan tea to make billy-tea for his Australian friends.

For feedback and readers' response: [email protected]

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.



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